Holding sent off for Arsenal after being 'played like a little boy’ by Tottenham's Son

by 24britishtvMay 12, 2022, 11 p.m. 11
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The absence of Cristian Romero was supposed to be the pre-match blow that handed Arsenal a place in the Champions League, but it was another central defender’s withdrawal from the field of play that ended up deciding the game.

Tottenham had played 13 games in a row with the same back three before Davinson Sanchez replaced Romero, who had failed to recover from a hip injury suffered during the 1-1 draw with Liverpool.

Sanchez is a defender that worries Spurs fans at the best of times and to boot had not started a league game since February.

“We trust him,” said Spurs boss Antonio Conte. In the Sky Sports studio, attackers Theo Walcott and Robbie Keane both hinted they would have fancied their chances up against the late replacement.

What they did not anticipate was that the disastrous loss of composure would come at the other end of the pitch.

Rob Holding did his best to test referee Paul Tierney’s patience from the off. Twice in the first 12 minutes he left Son Heung-min on the floor and the second time with a little bit of afters, as though the Gunners had identified the Korean as a player who might lose his cool given the right provocation. In fact, the opposite was true.

All Holding succeeded in doing was earning himself a yellow card in the 26th minute. Just seven minutes later, the Arsenal defender knocked Son over again and Holding was dispatched to leave the Gunners, already trailing, in deep, deep trouble.

“Son has played Holding. He just played him and played him like a little boy,” said Gary Neville, who has played in his fair share of fiery derbies and – usually – did not let the occasion get the better of him.

He was similarly critical of Cedric Soares, who fouled Son under a delicate cross to give away the first-half penalty which Harry Kane converted.

“It looked really, really clumsy,” Neville said.

“Cedric just steps across Son and he’s not playing the ball. I see what he’s trying to do, I’ve done it a million times as a full-back but you’ve got to be clever with it.”

There were errors at both ends of course, to be expected in a game with so much at stake and two teams which such a track record of struggling with the pressure of the occasion. Ben Davies was forced to take a yellow of his own when robbed by Bukayo Saka and sprayed an ill-advised pass across his own backline that nearly gifted an equaliser.

But Arsenal compounded their error. Ben White was only fit enough for the bench and despite having stripped off, Mikel Arteta decided not to bring him on before the break. Gabriel was the only centre-half on the pitch when Spurs scored their second from a corner. One of the Premier League’s greatest ever strikers was being marked by Eddie Nketiah. Of course Kane scored.

Arteta refused to blame his players for the defeat (“I am so proud of my players”), but also would not comment on the refereeing decisions that defined the game.

“If I say what I think, I am suspended six months so I cannot say,” Arteta said.

“I am allowed to give my interpretation of what happened in the game but I don’t know how to lie. I don’t like lying so I prefer not to say what I think.

“I cannot say what I think. I will be suspended.”

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